Grasping for Air

2007.Jun.02 Saturday · 4 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

 The air soft as that of Seville in April, and so fragrant that it was delicious to breathe it.”

– Christopher Columbus, explorer

Beef and horseradish

Buenos Aires – I know, you’ve been waiting for it. It’s not like I could take a class in various techniques and not try them out here and there. No worries that I’m suddenly going to stop serving our usual fancified home cooking though – at most these things will show up as touches, garnishes, mere ephemera. I had the opportunity to play around a bit the other night when we hosted a small private dinner. The owner of Sur de Los Andes winery wanted a place to showcase some of his wines to a small group of food and wine journalists (no pressure there, right?), and having been to Casa SaltShaker a few times, thought it would make a nice, relaxed venue in which to do so. A four course meal, the first three planned around five of his wines (okay, so he came with seven wines, and they were different from the ones we discussed, but we made it work), and full license to come up with anything that would both complement his wines, but also keep the writers’ interest.

I decided that I’d go with some things that I’ve done in the past for at least a couple of the courses, things that I like the way they turn out. You’ve seen my little shrimp, potato-zucchini mash, and banana guacamole dish – I used fresh scallops this time instead of shrimp, and since good, mature avocados are not in season right now, decided on a different sauce – settling on my fire-roasted tomato sauce (recipe in that same dinner), though making it without the hot pepper, and using a reduced sherry instead of reduced red wine. The second course was a a fairly quick and easy mole sauce with chicken that I make at home when I’m in the mood – it’s not a real traditional, long cooked mole with all sorts f seeds and nuts pounded into a paste – it’s a mix of sesame seeds, onions, garlic, ancho chili, nuts, chocolate, cinnamon, and salt, all blended with some olive oil in the blender and then cooked for about an hour over low heat. Usually I make this with turkey and carrots, which work well, this time I went with chicken and carrots, but separate the carrots out in long strands like spaghetti, blanched, and laid out like a nest underneath the chicken and some couscous (I don’t know, I just used couscous).

But then, for the main course, I knew I wanted to do something with beef. This was where his big gun wines were going to be shown. I started thinking about that lamb and wasabi dish that we’d done the first night of class, and from there it all sort of came together. I used lomo, or beef loin, and instead of wasabi, I had some fresh horseradish roots around, so grated those into the crust mixture (really just breadcrumbs, butter, the grated horseradish, and some salt), browned the beef, let it cool, spread the crust on it, and threw it under the broiler (I left it in slightly long after it was browned, just “resting” with the heat turned off, and the beef cooked more than I would have liked, but not overdone. I sauteed some mushrooms until they were lightly browned; I blanched some brussels sprouts and then sauteed them with pinenuts and raisins, and then… did he really do it? … yes, a foam. An air. It was a nearly last minute decision, I just suddenly thought about the idea, and I had more horseradish around, so why not a bit of horseradish air atop the dish as a garnish? And it worked – it actually added a nice spicy note to the vegetables in particular (the beef already had the horseradish in the crust), and looked kind of cool. And when I said “horseradish air”, everyone suddenly seemed to be paying attention. Go figure.

For dessert, it was my “lamington” cupcakes, from our Australia dinner – I like those…

So there, I’ve made my first “air”. Now back to our regular programming…


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

ksternberg June 3, 2007 at 14:21

Dan, how were the wines, and how did you get the air look into the horseradish? What’s the technique?

dan June 4, 2007 at 09:05

Unfortunately, I didn’t really get a chance to sit down and try the wines, though I have in the past. I’m a big fan of Sur de Los Andes. The Malbec and Bonarda Reservas are definitely at the top of my list – everything you’d want from either, and at a great value (at least here). I find both the Gran Reserva and the Infinito to be a little too “international” style for my personal tastes – not so much so that I’d say “no”, but just a bit over the top in the new oak and indistinct fruit world.

The foam turns out to be pretty easy – I used the technique that I talked about from our second night of class of coming up with a simple vegetable “juice” – in this case, I peeled a section of horseradish root and ran it through the blender with a cup or so of water, blended it for about 5 minutes, then let it sit another 10-15, and then strained it. Just before ready to serve, I added a spoonful of soy lecithin granules to it, which gives the bubbles some tensoactive strength, so that the foam doesn’t just immediately collapse again – and then used a hand blender to foam the liquid (half in, half out of the liquid to make sure a good amount of air gets incorporated).

petrag54 June 15, 2007 at 13:12

is there a ratio that you use for the soy lecithin to juice?

dan June 15, 2007 at 16:43

I’m still experimenting with it to see if there’s a “best” ratio, the recipes they’ve given us in the classes seem to vary between about 3gm to a liter of liquid on up to 3gm to a half liter. For about a cup of liquid that I used on this foam I used roughly a heaping teaspoon and it held well. I imagine it’s also variable depending on what it is your trying to foam. I tried it this week with some almond milk and it required more in order to hold the bubbles – I’m sure there’s a chemical reason behind it…

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